A Thirst For Knowledge

Rabbi Reuven Mann

In this week’s Parsha, Yitro, the father-in-law of Moshe makes his entry into Jewish History.  We had encountered him before in the story of Moshe’s heroic defense of his daughters from the bullying shepherds.  Moshe drove off their antagonists and watered the sheep.  With characteristic humbleness he sought no reward or compensation.  Neither did the daughters offer any.  When they came home earlier than usual and their father inquired as to the cause, they reported about the deed of this “Egyptian man,” who “saved us from the shepherds and also drew water and watered our sheep.”  Yitro rebuked his daughters and said “and where is he?  How did you let this man go?  Now go invite him for a meal.”  Yitro was upset with his daughters because they had failed to show gratitude to someone who had done a great favor for them.  He was also, very keen in discerning the special qualities of Moshe.  He convinced Moshe to join his household and then gave his daughter Tzipporah to him for a wife.

Moshe then took leave of Yitro in order to return to Egypt at G-d’s behest.  Although, originally, Moshe took his wife and children with him, at some point he sent them back to Yitro.  After the Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea and the other miraculous events which occurred in quick succession, Yitro decided to reestablish contact with his son-in-law.  A great deal had changed since he had last seen him.  Then, Moshe was a humble shepherd of his father-in-law’s sheep.  Now, he was the king of the Jews who had led them out of the House of Bondage and brought the mightiest empire to its knees.  Yitro travelled to the wilderness where Moshe was camped.  He showed great respect and secured a meeting.  His purpose was to get a first hand account of all that had occurred.  We can learn a lot from the behavior of Yitro.  We should not be content with a superficial understanding of events but should seek the greatest amount of knowledge possible.  Moshe described in great detail all that had transpired.  Yitro was genuinely affected by the account. He responded by blessing G-d who “saved you from Egypt and from Pharaoh.”  He then exclaimed, “Now I know that Hashem is greater than all gods because that which they plotted to do was turned against them.”

The words of Yitro require analysis.  According to Rashi he was saying that “I recognized Him before but now even more.”  This means that belief in Hashem is not a simple either/or proposition.  Noah, who did not enter the Ark until he actually felt the raindrops, was described as one who “believed and didn’t believe.”  He believed but not wholeheartedly.  His faith was not absolute like that of Avraham who “walked before Hashem” prepared to go on whatever path He directed him.  Yitro recognized Hashem but entertained doubts.  His greatness was that he maintained an open mind and yearned to discover the truth.  One who seeks to know Hashem is assisted.  Obtaining a son-in-law such as Moshe was a reward from Heaven, in line with the Rabbinic dictum, “when one comes to purify himself, we help him.”  Divine providence is always there for those who seek to gain and increase their knowledge of G-d.  Opportunities are provided.  However, that is as far as Heaven goes.  It is up to man to exploit to the fullest the benefits Hashem has bestowed on him.

Yitro was able to sense the great significance of the events that had transpired.  He recognized that he was living in a time of Divine Revelation and that if things would be properly explained to him it could change his life.  He appreciated the great privilege of being the father-in-law of Moshe and acted wisely and humbly to secure the explanations that were needed from the great teacher.  The Rabbis say that until Yitro no one had blessed G-d for the deliverance from Egypt.  Perhaps the reason is that while for the Jews it was a great deliverance from bondage, it did not produce an elevation in their relationship with Hashem.  For Yitro, however, it was a learning experience, which transformed him into a person who recognized Hashem with all his heart.  Nothing is more inspiring to man than the discovery of His Creator after a long period of searching.  Yitro could not contain his exultation.  “Now I know,” he said, “that Hashem is greater than all the gods,” for His Hand is evident in all that befell the Egyptians.  He not only saved the Jews but dealt with their oppressors according to the principle of “measure for measure.”  This is a G-d who is all powerful and all knowing, just, merciful and compassionate.  He brought burnt offerings and sacrifices to Hashem for he realized that his purpose as a human was not only to acknowledge the Creator but to serve Him, as well.  May the story of Yitro’s burning thirst for knowledge and Hashem’s providential response to this sacred desire be a source of inspiration to us, His chosen people. 

Shabbat Shalom